Canadian citizen tortured in prison rearrested by Bahrain authorities

Canadian Naser Al Raas was arrested and detained today after he attended a court due to hear his appeal against his five-year prison sentence. The 29 year-old IT-specialist had been in hiding since being sentenced on 25 October 2011, he feared returning to prison after he was tortured while in pre-trial detention.

Al Raas was arrested and tortured for participating in protests in February and March 2011, when thosands of Bahrani’s took to the streets. He was charged with spreading false news and inciting hatred against the regime.

Despite the Bahrain authorities frequently detaining people who attend court appointments, Al Raas’s fiancé Zainab told Index that her fiance felt safe to attend court for the first time after Canadian officials had condemned his sentence. On 26 January, the Canadian government called for Al Raas’s case to be “resolved expeditiously, particularly in view of Mr. AlRaas’ grave health concerns.” AlRaas has a serious heart condition, and his physician claim’s imprisoning his patient’s would place his life “in jeopardy”. AlRaas needs regular medication, and is susceptible to haemorrhages when he is injured. After his release on bail after 31 days in prison,  AlRaas claimed prison officials repeatedly beat him on the chest which is scarred from two open-heart procedures.

The judge has allowed a request to allow Al Raas to see a cardiologist. Al Raas is now being held at Jaw prison, where a number of imprisoned activists are on hunger strike. Fourteen activist are on a one-week hunger strike protesting the Bahrani states vicious crackdown on activists and its continued detention of prisoners of conscience. Al Raas told his fiancee that if he was imprisoned he would join the prisoner’s action, many members of the Bahraini opposition have also joined the hunger strike in solidarity.

Al Raas’s appeal hearing has been postponed until 16 February. His lawyer told Index that he was “optimistic” about the appeal hearing, and he also he said that he pressed the judge for an earlier court date.

Canadian citizen faces five years in Bahrain prison for peacefully demonstrating

Twelve of thirteen defendants were acquitted today by a Bahraini court, including Wafi Al-Majed, the husband of human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja, who was sentenced to four years in prison. Al-Khawaja, who tweets under the username @angryarabiya, expressed joy on the social networking site today:


Zainab, who is the daughter of well-known human rights activist Abdulhady Al-Khawaja, still waits for the release of her father, who has been in prison since 9 April:


While twelve of the defendants, who all faced charges of illegal assembly, rioting and incitement, were able to walk free, one now faces time in prison. Naser al-Raas did not appear in court today, and for this reason the court upheld his five-year sentence.

Canadian citizen al-Raas was first detained on 20 March, while attempting to leave Bahrain. Prior to his arrest, al-Raas attended protests peacefully, took pictures and tweeted his views. Charged with “inciting to hatred” and “spreading false news,” al-Raas told Index that he was “surprised” by the court’s decision to uphold the sentence, because Public Prosecutor Fadhil Al-Buainain recently said that all charges related to free expression will be dropped. al-Raas believes that his unchanged charges confirms that government officials are “lying.”

The 29-year-old IT specialist refused to go to court out of fear of returning to jail. “I didn’t want to take that risk, after what I experienced last time, I don’t want to go through that again,” said al-Raas. During his 31 days in prison, al-Raas was tortured and deprived of medication for his heart condition. al-Raas said that he and his lawyer are unsure of their next steps, on account of the unclear legal process, but they “reject the verdict.”

Canadian authorities have asked the Bahraini government to commute al-Raas’s sentence, but he believes that they should be calling for the charges against him to be dropped. He said it was “unacceptable” that he might face five years in prison for expressing his beliefs.